In which Tom Bulford has his brain scanned, prodded and poked

As your investment adviser I am pleased to report that my brain is in good working order. I know this because, you see, I volunteered for that brain scan.

I have been on my back in a darkened room, listening to a hammering beat that sounded something between a pneumatic drill and the idling engine of a heavy goods truck.

No, I have not been carousing in the nightclubs of Ibiza (frankly, you would have to pay me!). Instead I have been in the labs of Oxford University having an experimental brain scan.

A clean bill of health

As your investment adviser I am pleased to report that my brain is in good working order. I know this because, you see, I volunteered for that brain scan.

While lying on my back in the CT scanner for twenty minutes listening to the disco beat I had to watch a series of images flashing in quick succession – a digger, a fork, an orange, a man in blue trousers, a washing machine, a washing machine again… and every time the same image appeared consecutively I had to press a button.

Gloria Pizzamiglio, who was conducting this test, told me I did rather well. And no, I have not been volunteering for medical experiments just to meet young ladies with glamorous names. That is just a perk!

Earlier this year in Oxford’s Science week I visited the Department of Experimental Psychology. While there I put my name down on a list of volunteers, and not long after I got an email asking if I would be prepared to take part in a study conducted by Dr Elisabeth Rounis.

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A different perspective

Here is what she thinks:

‘Limb apraxia is often observed in patients following a stroke or in movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease. In stroke patients this often involves the unaffected hand as well as the hand that has become weak following their stroke. We think that the reason why this condition is impaired relates to the way they use visual information to guide action targeted to object use.’

That’s medical talk for you! Anyway the basic point of the study was to see how my brain was functioning while I did this simple recognition test, and maybe one day it will help with the treatment of stroke patients.

For me the whole experience was very interesting, if a little alarming. While lying in the MRI tube I could not help wondering whether the operator had forgotten about me and gone home. Would I be able to get out without his help?

It also made me think of the whole nature of these trials. Before qualifying for the trial I had to give affirmative answers to many questions that could easily have ruled me out – such as whether I had any metal implants or was prone to feinting. Who else volunteers for these trials? Are they only strange creatures like myself with an interest in medical science? Are they a proper representative sample? I don’t know.

But I am glad I took part. In the biotech sector, so much depends on the outcome of these trials. As editor of Breakthrough Biotech Alert I spend a lot of time checking the latest trial results, looking for a clue to show me the next blockbuster drug or treatment.

In fact, my latest report is based on a series of astonishing result in obscure clinical trials. It’s finally finished, edited and with the Agora design team. The report comes out on Friday – make sure to keep an eye out for the email.

So it was interesting to experience a clinical trial from the patient’s perspective. And it was nice to sit in the waiting room reading the tired old magazines knowing that it was not poor health that had brought me there.

Anyway – enough of this writing! Dementia lies ahead one day I suppose! I had better get back to my crossword and Sudoku. You know what they say about the brain… use it or lose it!

Until next time,

Tom Bulford

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